Business Wire IndiaOn the occasion of the Union Budget 2021 having been presented in the parliament by Smt. Nirmala Sitaraman, Hon'ble Minister of Finance, Government of India, and the announcement that women will be allowed to work all shifts, there is a lot of speculation about how this will impact women’s representation.
Speaking about this, Dr. Saundarya Rajesh, Founder-President, Avtar Group, a social enterprise working to increase women’s workforce participation and gender diversity across the country, said “The Budget 2021 has immense potential to increase the employment of women. With the creation of 2 vaccines which, will ensure a return to normal economic activity, the schemes announced are well thought through and appear inclusive especially when the IMF has predicted a double-digit growth for India.”
It must also be kept in mind that the Covid-19 Pandemic had disproportionately impacted women forcing them to drop out of workforce. India’s women’s labour force participation, according to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, is at an all-time low of 21%, down from 25%, due to the increase in number of jobs lost by women. Let’s not forget that this 21% includes the farm economy as well, contributing almost 75% to this number. As such, in urban India, only 12 out of every 100 still employed are women, a shocking statistic, down from the already low 18.
There are 3 drivers of increased women’s labour force participation – 1) Jobs that exist in locations where the woman has family support, 2) contemporary and futuristic skilling (like digital marketing, for instance) that allows for marketability, 3) a government mandate that enables small businesses to be rewarded for hiring more women – these are fundamental to increasing women’s employment in India.
The recent budget has perhaps addressed two out of 3 of the above asks. The allowance of women to work in all shifts is a move towards bridging the gender divide brought in by Covid-19. This will help industries such as IT, ITeS and BPO in SEZ's, manufacturing companies in sectors such as Textiles, Pharma and FMCG – both SME's as well as large organizations with national presence. The textile industry, one of India’s ancient industries that employs the largest numbers of women has received a big fillip with the announcement of seven Textile Parks. Moreover, a portal on gig workers and a post-education apprenticeship for graduates will further increase employability of marginalized talent pool.
Given these forward-looking announcements, “I am optimistic about women's labour force participation this year and I expect we can see about 15 lakh women (both blue collar and white collar workers) benefiting from this. I will not be surprised if there is an increase of between 1-2% in women's labour force participation this year,” added Dr. Saundarya.
However, the third aspect, which would allow small businesses to be rewarded for hiring women has not seen any traction in any of the budgets presented in the last 6 years. Large organizations in super metros have already bought the business case for gender inclusion and this has led to women’s employment being enhanced. It is the Tier II and Tier III cities and towns that need the influence of inclusion. And this is where there is a large population of women – educated, career-seeking and yet unable to earn a vocation due to non-availability of jobs matching their aspirations. As per CMIE’s data, young women in the age group of 20-24 across urban locales, are more interested in being employed than similar-aged women in rural India. As such, this is a very important talent pool, waiting to be engaged. The SME’s and micro-enterprises in these locations will require a fillip in order to engage women more proactively. Had the budget addressed this, by providing an albeit small, yet encouraging rebate to employers of women, India would have seen a jump in women’s job creation to almost double-digit increases, which will have a multiplier effect on the economy”.